Real Maryland FC may have self-relegated from the ranks of the senior professional game in the U.S., but the heritage of the club will live on in the Aland Islands. Joe Funicello appears to have put ink to paper today and will join Mason Trafford and honorary Real Marylander Josh Wicks at IFK Mariehamn for the full 2011 campaign.
There are all kinds of objective reasons to root for Funicello's success in the Veikkausliiga. At 23, Funicello has played in the first division of Finnish football, the second division of Icelandic football, the third division of American football, and in the seventh and eighth divisions of English football. Joe's shown a willingness to chase his football dreams wherever opportunity presents itself and an extended shot with Mariehamn is a nice payoff for his efforts thus far.
I have dumber reasons for caring. I love that Joe's personal soccer website also doubles as the internet presence of the Funicello family's restaurant in Westport. More importantly, on a personal basis, Joe was one of the first athletes that my daughter got an autograph from. As a one year old, she held out a soccer ball for Joe to sign after a game at Richard Montgomery and he was kind enough to indulge the farce of a middle-aged man asking for an autograph through a baby.
I am not much of an autograph hound, although I've not missed any opportunity to collect signatures from D.C. United's squad at the club's "Meet the Team Day" and have gone a wee bit crazy at our two trips to Mesa for spring training. But among the sports memorabilia I have collected, the soccer ball with Joe's signature (which also includes an autograph my daughter got later in the year from Josh Wicks at Ludwig Field), is particularly special.
My daughter's early pleasant interactions with players -- Joe and Josh included -- have, I am convinced, played a seminal role in how much she seems to enjoy going to games. She's always excited to head to a soccer stadium and moments like watching Taylor Kemp's game winner on Sunday are massively enhanced by having her in my arms grinning and cheering.
I don't know how much longer her interest in watching soccer will last, but I'll cherish it for as long as she does.